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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Democratic Ticket on the Environment

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth takes a look at the environmental record of presidential candidate John Kerry. He's been steeped in the issues of acid rain, thinning ozone and climate change. But there's disagreement over where the environment ranks on his agenda.


CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

John Kerry and John Edwards discuss their vision for America. (Photo: John Kerry for President, Inc. from Sharon Farmer)

On November 2nd Americans will choose their next president. Between now and then, if you live in one of those states considered "in play," you're probably witnessing a flood of political advertising. This week on Living on Earth, we try to step away from the ads and the convention fray with a look at how and how much the environment has mattered to the two men on the Democratic ticket, Senators John Kerry and John Edwards.

First, Senator Kerry. Now you can disagree over the significance of his record on the environment during his years of service as an elected official, but John Kerry has one. And the record begins during a period in his life that hasn't gotten much attention -- a period after Vietnam, after he was a prosecutor, but before he was elected to the U.S. Senate. The time was 1982, the place was Massachusetts. The environmental issue of the day was acid rain, and people were still coming to terms with it. Dianne Dumanoski was an environment writer for the Boston Globe at the time.

DUMANOSKI: Acid rain was a really dominant issue. We had lakes – actually we still have lakes -- that were acidified and had lost their fish, there’s been widespread damage to the forests in New England

CURWOOD: John Kerry had been elected Lieutenant Governor, traditionally a stepping stone in Massachusetts politics. The governor, Michael Dukakis, delegated the issues of state-federal relations to Kerry just as acid rain was becoming the premier cross-border issue.

DUMANOSKI: He sort of became the point person on acid rain and was the person that was doing all this organizing and collaborating with the other governors and the Eastern Canadian provincial heads of government. And there was actually a treaty that was signed in '83. It was actually the first agreement on acid rain. It really predated the agreements in Europe and this actually later became the blueprint for the provisions in the Clean Air Act that didn't get passed until 1990.

CURWOOD: Dianne Dumanoski credits Kerry with developing a strong grasp of this complex issue, in which pollutants are carried by the wind from the Midwest to the U.S. and Canadian east. Bob Turner also covered the earlier career of John Kerry and is now deputy editorial page editor at the Boston Globe.

TURNER: I do think that the work on the acid rain was to some extent was a model for the Clean Air Act in Congress, which he did play a significant role in, and which did pull enough states together and enough bipartisan support to produce quite a momentous piece of legislation.

CURWOOD: In his early years in the Senate, John Kerry also wrote a bill to keep fishermen from inadvertently killing dolphins in the huge nets known as driftnets. He also championed a measure that dealt with plastic garbage in the ocean.

TURNER: I would say the environment is definitely one issue -- I think it is one of his signal issues, and I think it has developed over a long period of time.

CURWOOD: But some who saw John Kerry in action back then say other members of the Massachusetts delegation were more apt to spearhead the charge for an environmental measure. Mike Deland was the head of the Environmental Protection Agency for the New England Region in the 1980s and chair of the President's Council on Environmental Quality in the first Bush administration.

DELAND: Well quite frankly at that time I was just not able to engage either the senator directly or any of his staff on the issues of the day.

CURWOOD: John Kerry could be counted on as a co-sponsor of environmental measures, and until the presidential campaign had a near perfect record from the League of Conservation Voters. But according to Mike Deland, that’s about as far as it usually went.

DELAND: There may have been an occasional speech on acid rain, but the real leader on that in Massachusetts was Governor Dukakis and then throughout New England John Chafee, and Senator Lowell Weicker and succeeded by Senator Lieberman in Connecticut and Moynihan in New York. And his lack of involvement in these issues really stood in stark contrast to the rich tradition of environmental leadership stemming from New England.

CURWOOD: But supporters point to Kerry’s consistent focus on environmental issues. He traveled to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro where, among other efforts, nations tried to agree on ways to slow the loss of biological diversity and the production of gases that promote global climate change.

And that is also where he caught the eye of the woman he would marry, Teresa Heinz, one of the country's major environmental philanthropists, and the widow of one of the most ardent environmental advocates in the Senate, the late Pennsylvania Republican John Heinz. It would prove to be meeting of minds as well as emotions. Again, Dianne Dumanoski.

DUMANOSKI: I think his initiation on the acid rain issue gave him an early understanding of these other issues like ozone depletion and climate change. And I've always had the impression that he understands, that he gets it

MULHERN: Since I work a lot on clean water act issues I’ve become very familiar with Senator Kerry’s record because he’s been involve in a lot of the significant clean water and coastal protection debates of the last six years.

CURWOOD: Jean Mulhern lobbies members of Congress as senior counsel for the environmental law firm Earthjustice. Though Earthjustice can't endorse candidates, she agreed to discuss John Kerry's reputation.

MULHERN: Senator Kerry has been one of the leading advocates on the commerce committee for strengthening and improving these very important provisions on non-point source pollution in the Coastal Zone Management Act reauthorization. And I would say that that’s true, again in my own experience as an environmental lobbyist that’s true, on many of the other clean water issues that I work on that Senator Kerry has a very steady record of supporting strong protections for the nation’s waters and meaningful efforts to reduce water pollution.

CURWOOD: And Senator Kerry has at times worked on environmental issues that were not likely to win him any political points or media attention. He worked on the international agreement to phase out chemicals that are gnawing a hole in the earth's protective ozone layer. And the Senator also worked closely with a non profit group called Second Nature which helps suffuse environmental principles throughout academia. His wife Teresa Heinz Kerry served on the board.

There have also been higher profile issues, like the Clean Air Act of 1990, and more recently he led an effort on the Senate floor that blocked drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We asked Bob Turner of the Boston Globe how much heat he thought a president John Kerry might be willing to take for an environmental issue he supports -- for example, cleaner power.

TURNER: Kerry pushes to a degree, but he also doesn't like to offend too many people. He 's for wind power, but he has reservations about the wind farm that’s proposed for Nantucket Sound near where he vacations. I think this is true of a lot of issues. I think he's to some extent pragmatic, not wanting to push too hard on something that has no chance of succeeding, but I think he’s someone who might put out some pretty ambitious goals and try to reach them.

CURWOOD: People also say that it is inevitable that his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry will tilt him in the direction of environmental protection even in a stiff political wind. But that’s not to say John Kerry’s connection to the environment didn’t start early. His mother was a naturalist, and read to him from Henry David Thoreau. He went to high school in the woods of New Hampshire, and the Forbes side of his family owns a string of islands off Cape Cod.

TURNER: I know he thinks of himself very much as an outdoorsman, you know he's a windsurfer and does things like windsurf for 20 or 30 miles at a time, and he does a lot of outdoor things like that. I think he’s to some extent a naturalist and a hunter, which some people feel is a contradiction there but there are a lot of hunters who are pretty good naturalists.



Boston Globe Online | John Kerry: A Candidate in the Making

John Kerry for President


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